Unfortunately in competitive sporting environments, injuries are likely to occur. As a basketball player, despite strength and conditioning training, knee and ankle injuries are frequent occurrences which almost cannot be avoided. Keeping positive and focused during time out of sport and throughout recovery is something players often struggle with, and without the right environment and support, an injury can not only physically, but mentally destroy an athlete.
For any sportsman or woman, sport is a major involvement in their life as well as an integral part of their identity. The loss of ‘athletic identity’ tends to be a key factor which causes mental breakdown in athletes during injury, as it leads to questioning your self-identity and who you are (Taylor and Taylor, 1958). A key factor in maintaining motivation throughout injury is maintaining athletic identity. In order to maintain athletic identity the player should stay involved within the club/team and sport. Coaches should take interest in the injured player, and give them a role on the team, such as an assistant coach. Depending on the injury, players can still attend practice, yet have individual specific training to focus on. This then keeps the player involved in the sport and gives them a feeling of social acceptance within the team. In addition, this can improve self-esteem and motivation, as the player can receive positive and constructive feedback from teammates and the coach (Goldberg, 2013).
Following this, if players due to their injury are unable to train, goal setting can be used to give them a target to get back to full game fitness. By working with the physiotherapist and rehabilitation team an aim should be set to work towards, such as returning to training in two months. Each week the physiotherapist and player can review the progress and set micro cycle goals. Goal setting in general gives the injured athletes commitment and direction in recovery, which assist and promotes motivation to get back into sport.
In addition, the use of mental imagery can give the athlete sense and reminiscence of playing sport. Mental imagery involves recreating an experience by using vivid visual imagery within the mind without the use of external stimuli (Vealey and Greenleaf, 2010). This is beneficial for those athletes who are injured as it does not require any physical activity, yet it still improves self-confidence and provides a positive outlook on the player’s performance. It is also thought that by imagining the injury repairing itself can promote healing and manage pain (Hamson-Utley, 2008).
Overall, the combination of maintaining athletic identity, goal setting, and using mental imagery can maintain motivation for an athlete whilst they are injured. All three factors involve support from others, whether team mates, a coach, physiotherapist or sport psychologist. This indicates that preventing the injured athlete from become sectioned off from others and alone is important, otherwise it can lead to a depressive spiral and a mental breakdown. Remaining in a community of practice in sport also means the athlete is continuingly learning even whilst injured. To conclude, remaining in a sporting environment whilst injured can develop an athlete into a better player when returning into sport, which is something the athlete should aim for to maintain motivation throughout injury.